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Joy of Living

Joy of Living(1938)


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teaser Joy of Living (1938)

Situated squarely in the screwball comedy category, Joy of Living (1938) stars one of the best actresses of the genre, the inimitable Irene Dunne. Honing her craft in such classics as Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and The Awful Truth (1937), Dunne plays a successful Broadway singer in Joy of Living whose freeloading family is literally draining her of happiness as well as her money. Enter Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as the raffish young man who teaches her how to have fun again. Lucille Ball stars as Dunne's younger sister, just one of the early acting gigs she got because Ann Sothern had graduated to bigger roles and was no longer a supporting player. Ball recalled, "Ann balked at playing Irene Dunne's kid sister, so I got the part. After that, whenever Ann turned down a script or didn't have time to do something, they gave me the job. But I didn't care. I didn't mind being second choice. I got a whole career out of Ann Sothern's rejects."

Director Tay Garnett, best known for The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), ran into an unexpected problem getting Joy of Living off the ground-starting with the title. In compliance with the Hays Code, basically the precursor to the current film ratings system, Garnett submitted the script for approval with its original title, Joy of Loving. The response? "Those watchdogs in behalf of public morals explained icily that, to avoid corrupting the young, there must be no exploitation of the joy of loving. Loving was conjugal duty, involving a possible nod from the stork. All strictly business, and job be damned. Our title was mandatorily changed to Joy of Living, which is a gas if one accepts that Hays office premise that one may experience the Joy of Living, only if one avoids the joy of loving."

In a 1978 interview with Dunne, she revealed that not only did she never see a finished version of the film, she further mused, "I don't remember anything about that picture . . . I remember that Douglas Fairbanks-funny the things you do remember-that Douglas had been in England and was quite an Anglophile. There was a scene where he wanted to say "fu-tile"-and Tay Garnett said, this is an American picture, and you are going to saw "fewtle" if we have to stay here all day. And we nearly did."

For his part, Fairbanks, Jr., was effusive about his costar: in Romantic Comedy by James Harvey, he declared her "A craftswoman," saying, "'nothing is instinctive' or 'left to chance,' but 'instead of being dull and perfect,' she's 'enchanting and perfect.'" As an up-and-comer, Lucille Ball remembered watching the stars and comparing their styles; "Hepburn 'telegraphed,' she said-'Well, I'm going to be funny'-whereas Dunne always surprised, even in repeated takes of the same scene. 'But I watched her do takes-literally, one day there were thirty-two takes-and twenty-five must have been different. She really worked on how to do that scene. Where Kate would do it the same way every time and telegraph it every time.'"

All those takes, however, must have added up: Garnett's production budget quickly ballooned out of control, topping out at over a million dollars, an astronomical sum for films at that time. Despite the priceless talent, Joy of Living didn't have a chance at recouping its costs and was a financial failure for the studio. Nevertheless, it holds up as one of the more entertaining screwball comedies of its era.

Producer: Tay Garnett, Felix Young
Director: Tay Garnett
Screenplay: Gene Towne, C. Graham Baker, Allan Scott, Dorothy Fields, Herbert Fields
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Jack Hively
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Jerome Kern
Cast: Irene Dunne (Maggie Garret), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Daniel Brewster), Alice Brady (Minerva Garret), Guy Kibbee (Dennis Garret), Jean Dixon (Harrison), Eric Blore (Potter).

by Eleanor Quin

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